Anthony Lewis BooksMiddle America - Reviews

~  Personal email from a satisfied customer.

~ Sunni's Salon - Sunni Maravillosa
~  Knappster - Thomas Knapp
~  Mt. - Craig Sprout

Hi Mr Lewis,

I just thought I would share with you that I immensely enjoyed your two 
works of fiction which I finished a little over a month ago. I had 
always been fascinated with the State of Montana and the people that 
live there and I believe you did an excellent job in painting the 
landscape. You did such an excellent job at doing it that I turned to my 
wife and said lets get out of California and go! So we literally booked 
a weekend away to see what it was like there and I am proud to say we 
turned around and bought property in Montana after visiting and meeting 
the people and seeing how fiercely independent the folks are just like 
you described in the book.

My wife and I can hardly wait to start building our new home there and 
getting out of California, it was like we discovered the real America we 
had always read and heard about compared to living in this God forsaken 
state we are currently "subjects" of.

Anyways I just figured I would reach out and let you know that your 
books really hit home with me and I really hope there is a third novel 
in the series in the works!

November 20, 2009

Sunni's Salon, March 2007

Middle America, by Anthony F. Lewis

It is difficult for even the best authors to sustain the promise offered by a good first book of a series. For them, as well as for the readers, the characters and setting are familiar, rather than fresh; hence, even a creative plot line can seem contrived or otherwise unfulfilling. And if it’s known in advance that more than two books are planned, the middle volumes often suffer from a real or perceived “sophomore slump”: a favorable interpretation might label intermediate capers “bridges” to the closing of the saga, while a less charitable one might call them “marking (or should that be marketing?) time”. When a fledgling author does well with an initial volume, the pressure is perhaps even higher: the audience is waiting to see if he or she can deliver again.

Anthony Lewis does deliver with his second novel, Middle America. I greatly enjoyed his first effort, The Third Revolution, but was wondering how he would follow up, since the primary story line was adequately wrapped up at its conclusion. Taking up a few years after the revolution, Middle America focuses on familiar characters mostly in the business of getting on with their business in the free zone, which has expanded from Montana to include several neighboring states. Governor Ben Kane is now former governor, and back to running his popular watering hole, with his circle of friends mostly nearby; and Running Wolf is helping tend a growing herd of buffalo that have helped rejuvenate the Sioux, Blackfoot, and other tribes, as well as captured the interest of environmentalists and others in what remains of the United States. Each is dealt unexpected challenges that form the basis of the action over the course of the book.

After the suspense-laden story line of The Third Revolution, money mysteries, an odd kidnapping, and buffalo-herding adventures will probably seem rather too sedate for some readers. I found the pace of Middle America slower, and the action less compelling in some ways, but not significantly less satisfying. Lewis has matured as a writer, and that shows primarily in his ability to pull off a lighter tale in good form. Typographical and similar errors seemed more frequent, and some turns of phrase seemed overly dramatic to my ear, but these were minor distractions. Being familiar with most of the major characters already, and easily becoming immersed in the goings-on of Middle America and Shining City left me reluctant to put the book down, even when I was reading well past my usual bedtime.

Characterization and setting drive a good deal of this story, and in those areas Lewis capitalizes splendidly on what he created in The Third Revolution. While not the most fully-fleshed characters I’ve encountered, Kane, Running Wolf, and crew are believably wrought, dealing with complex challenges in realistic ways. While Lewis’ depiction of Shining City is nicely rich, his vibrant portrayal of the Montana plains and weather almost attains the status of a character in its own right. The story is deeply tied to the land and its inhabitants’ ways, and Lewis never loses sight of that. I particularly appreciate his refusal to demonize drinking – something which will doubtless result in some uncomfortable squirming for any readers who have swallowed the Neo-Prohibitionist Kool-Aid currently being generously distributed. Deft touches of freedom philosophy as well as the overtly free Shining City setting blend nicely with the action rather than grinding it to a halt. The process of getting the state out of the way of private enterprise is also fairly realistically shown – no instant anarchist utopia here, neatly hidden in the off-stage years in between Lewis’ novels.

Anthony Lewis appears to clearly understand that subsequent novels in a series walk a tricky tightrope: they must offer something new and interesting while also retaining at least some of what made the initial book a success. Some might find fault with his decision to focus more on characters than delivering another fast-paced action tale; while that is one of several promising roads not taken, I am quite satisfied with the one Lewis did choose. With Middle America, Lewis demonstrates two important attributes—that he is a talented writer; and that he isn’t interested in churning out formulaic fiction. His blog, The Idle Mind, reveals that two more works are in the pipeline; and I’m looking forward to reading each of them.

Sunni graphic

Friday, September 29, 2006

Book Review: Middle America is upper class

by Thomas L. Knapp

Middle America
by Anthony F. Lewis
Booksurge Publishing, 2006

$17.99 from Amazon.Com

Middle America is Anthony F. Lewis's second novel (I reviewed his debut, The Third Revolution, in two parts here and here). Let me effuse in brief: The prologue is well worth the book's cover price, and it's all gravy after that.

Middle America takes up four years after The Third Revolution. Governor Ben Kane, who led several states out of the union in a freedom-driven secession movement, is now former Governor Ben Kane -- back in the restaurant business but with an eye always on, and an involuntary finger always in, politics. Middle America has lived through four years of explosive economic growth: A burgeoning tourist industry based on activities prohibited or tightly regulated in the Old USA has taken root, and freeing and reinvigorating the North American bison herds (instead of relying on federal subsidies for ailing beef operations) provides both a cultural rallying point and another economic stimulus.

All, of course, is not well. Something fishy's going on at Middle America's largest tourist trap, and a presidential race in the Old USA turns on the issue of Kane's secession and its impact. These two elements are the framework on which Lewis hangs his plot, bringing back his original cast of characters (with additions) to take on Some Big Questions.

No spoilers here: I'm more interested in talking about Lewis's obvious growth as a writer between the two books. The Third Revolution is competently written by any measure, but mainly carried along by its plot -- a plot which really only appeals to a small niche audience (fans of libertarian secession fiction). Middle America is a buffalo of a different color (speaking of which, there's one of those in the book). It's beautifully rendered, the characters come to life, and Lewis's vision seems much more tightly integrated into rational speculation about future technological developments and a realistic appraisal of how real people (and politicians) act under a given set of circumstances.

Lewis's portrayal of a tourist Mecca ("Shining City") in a libertarian enclave surrounded by "victimless crime" regimes is particularly striking. This is one area in which many fine authors fall short when it comes to achieving suspension of disbelief in the reader's mind ... but Lewis hits the nail on the head. Shining City -- and the reaction to it both in Middle America and the Old USA -- strikes me as utterly believable.

Moreover, both that portrayal and the story in general strike me as something which a non-libertarian (or someone not even especially interested in politics per se) could curl up with and enjoy, which is indeed a rarity among novels with libertarian themes.

As always, I have my little complaints, but little they are. The love story which sprouted in the first novel gets more believable, but only marginally so. I can live with that (if Lewis has male-female relationships figured out he's way ahead of most of us, right?). There's still aslight tilt toward the "Republicans are more open to libertarian ideas than Democrats" notion which prevailed in The Third Revolution, but that tilt is much less pronounced and Lewis does give the Left its due where the situation calls for it. The one thing I probably can't forgive is his retirement of Joe Adams's 1972 Norton Commando. That one hurt.

I've read a number of good books lately; Middle America is probably the best thing I've read this year. Lewis is going to regret this when his inbox begins filling up with my emails demanding the next installment.

Thomas L. Knapp's blog can be found at: Knappster

Montana is a Small Town with Long Streets

Review: Middle America

29th August 2006

Rating 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

5 years after the end of The Third Revolution, we rejoin former Montana Governor Ben Kane and his cast of characters after secession. Idaho, Wyoming and the Dakotas have joined Montana in revolt, and now the loose confederation calls itself the Middle American States. Montana's biggest draw is a place called "Shining City",  a combination casino, restaurant, arcade, legal drug den and house of ill-repute.

Mild spoilers below the fold.

In Book I, Ben Kane has declined to run for a second term as governor of Montana, and so is content to manage his restaurant, American Outback in Helena. Kane is still a popular figure in the region, and the former state Senate Majority leader is now the President of the confederation.

Kane is called to the Shining City by an offer. To bolster flagging restaurant figures, Kane is asked to manage a re-creation of the American Outback in the Shining City. He's given free reign, and his main duties are mainly keeping the books straight and putting in appearances.

Soon, Kane begins to suspect that all is not as it seems with the Shining City, and with the help of his friends begins to track down where all the money is going.

The money trail seems to lead, of all places, back to the IRS. Kane's close associate is kidnapped, and things begin to unravel for the conspirators.

In the Blackfoot region, a white buffalo is born. It is said to herald great change and a spiritual joining of native peoples. The Blackfoot, Crow and Sioux tribes decide to merge their separate herds into one enormous free-range herd. The three herds are joined right outside Shining City to a packed house.

Book I ends with the wrap-up of the financial goings-on at Shining City.

Book II covers the presidential election in the United States.

Ben's love interest is hired on as a campaign consultant to the president's campaign staff. The challenger is threating a blockade/boycott of the Middle American States as his platform, so Ben finds himself working with the sitting president to defeat a "common enemy."

Oh, yeah, and build a hydrogen powered railroad from Billings to Helena.

Think of The Third Revolution as an appetizer, and Middle America as the main course. Book I is story and character-driven, and is tough to put down. Book II has a little bit more of the philosophy that we found in The Third Revolution, but it leans more toward the political end of things, rather than the philosophical.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Reading the two novels back to back, I really thought that Lewis hit his stride withMiddle America. While good, The Third Revolution felt like a first novel, but Middle America showed that he learned from the experience and took it to the next level. The only gripe I had was that I felt the financial conspiracy story line left some loose ends.

This was a fun read, made doubly so because of the setting. When reading about the gang taking a motorcycle trip to Shining City, I couldn't help but thinking, "Hells bells, I'da gone the other way -- better drive and less traffic." But that's what makes it fun.

Anthony's third novel, "Little Birdies"  is working its way through the final editing process, and should be arriving on shelves sometime soon. I plan on buying this one, instead of scamming a review copy from Anthony, and I hope you will do the same. And buy Middle America and The Third Revolution while you're at it.